Farmington City, San Juan County will stop issuing burn permits as drought deepens

Farmington officials say more restrictions are possible

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — With more than 70% of San Juan County categorized as being in the most extreme form of drought, fire officials in Farmington and the county have decided to stop issuing burn permits.

The county's decision goes into effect at 7 a.m. Saturday, May 15, according to a press release. The city's decision also goes into effect that day.

David Vega, deputy fire chief for San Juan County Fire & Rescue, hinted such a decision might be coming in an interview with The Daily Times in late April, explaining that conditions would be evaluated three weeks from that time, and a determination would be made as to whether burn permits would continue to be issued.

County officials apparently have seen fire conditions only get worse since that time and decided May 13 to issue the press release announcing their decision to stop issuing the permits.

Burn permits are required by state and county law for legal open burning. According to the press release, long-term forecasts and evaluation of fuels indicate conditions are expected to continue to deteriorate into June.

Anyone who burns without a permit or carelessly starts a burn can face 90 days a jail, a $500 fine or both, according to the county's press release.

David Vega

Robert Sterrett, acting chief of the Farmington Fire Department, said the city's decision was made after it reached the same conclusion as the county about the chances for continued drought conditions.

“We’ve been carefully monitoring the ongoing drought and evaluating the 30- and 60-day weather outlook as it relates to the threat of wildland," he stated in a press release. "The City of Farmington and San Juan County is currently in exceptional drought (D4). Unfortunately, little if any relief is in the forecast, and conditions are expected to worsen this month and into June.”

City officials say further restrictions are likely to be adopted if conditions continue to worsen as summer approaches.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers basin snowpack summary, the snowpack was just 34% of normal and 29% of average on May 14.

Fires:Drought conditions ripe for active fire season in San Juan County, officials say

The section of San Juan County categorized as being in exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, covers the entire eastern half of the county and much of the northwest corner. The remaining portions of the county are in extreme drought, the second-worst category, or severe drought, the third-worst category.

Most of the rest of the state is in the same position. Only small portions of four counties — Rio Arriba, Taos, Union and Quay — are categorized as being in moderate drought, the fourth-worst classification, while the rest of New Mexico is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

Nor is the drought restricted to New Mexico. Large portions of Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California also are experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

A message posted on the agency's website at drought.gov states, "Widespread warm and dry conditions since the start of spring have led to rapid snowmelt across the West. This, plus poor snowpack, has left some areas of the West with not just lower than normal snow water equivalent (SWE), but almost no SWE at all."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.